From “The Voice of the Hill”

- This month’s answer provided by David Mahoney

Deciding to paint during the winter months not only means less expensive prices but can also mean you will find a larger pool of available contractors from which to choose.

There are many ways you can find a reputable contractor to do your work. Ask friends, neighbors or your local paint store manager whom they would recommend. If you visit a home where you especially like the work, get the name of their contractor.

You may also check advertisements in the local newspaper or yellow pages for phone numbers. But just because you see an advertisement in a local publication doesn’t mean the company or individual meets the criteria to engage in the work legally. Check licenses and references of each potential contractor.

Before you pick up the phone and dial, sit down and think through your project. Write down exactly what you want done, select colors (or possible colors) and sheen you desire. Write out any special concerns you may have, such as a piece of antique furniture that needs to be handled delicately. Be sure to include a proposed timeline.

You can expect a waiting period of up to several weeks from the time you choose your contractor to the actual start of the project.

You are now ready to solicit two or three bids for the work you need. Make sure you provide identical information to all potential bidders. Notice if the contractor returns you call promptly. Does he or she arrive on time to evaluate your job, and does he or she provide an estimate within a reasonably short period of time after the initial visit?

While the exodus from the suburbs into the city has increased the value of your house, it has also increased the demand for contracting work on the older homes in the city. As a result, less experienced and fly-bynight contractors have surfaced.

During the interview use the Contractor’s Checklist. Once you receive bids on the price and duration of your job, review them carefully. Discuss the bid in detail to make certain you understand any variations in price. Just because a quote is an appealing low price does not mean it is the one you should necessarily choose. A cheap bid that sacrifices materials and experience could become more costly than you ever imagined!

Painting is the easy part of the job. When selecting a contractor, be sure to quiz him on the surface preparation he plans to perform. It is the most time consuming and labor intensive part of a quality painting job. Scraping, sanding, caulking and patching usually represent more than half of the work. Be sure a contractor describes the steps he will take before he picks up a brush.

When you have the bids in hand compare apples to apples, i.e., the same grade of materials and the same procedures including the area to be painted, the number of coats of paint to be used, the grade of paint and similar steps for preparation.

Before you sign a contract, know that the contract protects both you and the contractor. Get all oral promises in writing and spell out exactly what the contractor will do. If you intend to do some do the work yourself or hire another contractor to do it, write this into the contract. Never sign a blank or partially blank contract.

Obtain a copy of the signed contract for your records. The financial terms should be clear and include the total price, time of payments and procedure for canceling.

Finally, be sure to ask for a copy of the “Protect Your Family from Lead” pamphlet if your house was built before 1978 and your contractor has been in business since 1999. Obtain a signed letter that you have received the pamphlet. It is the law, but not all contractors or residents are aware of the requirements.

Taking the time to plan your project, prepare for the contractor, asking questions and checking references can ensure that your home improvement project is a successful one.